Maybe this is going to be a battle after all.  Down two-love in the NBA Finals, the Magic shot lights out on Tuesday to top the Lakers 108-104 in Orlando.  Still, one has to wonder how a team can shoot a playoff record 63% from the field and fail to cover a 4½-point spread.  The two teams get right back at it on Thursday in Game 4 from the Amway Arena with ABC's broadcast set to air at 9:00 p.m. (ET).

Handicapping the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of covering in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night (9 PM ET, ABC) depends on to what extent you view life as a glass half full.

In analyzing the Orlando Magic’s 108-104 win over the Lakers in Tuesday night’s Game 3, both the qualitative and quantitative outcomes point bettors in whatever direction through which they choose to see the loss. In the simplest and most direct terms, the truth is Los Angeles cashed as 4½-point underdogs at most sportsbooks. In the main crux of what both cappers and squares are trying to do, the Lakers’ Game 3 performance was a rousing success: They covered the spread.

Surely L.A. bettors have to be worried about Orlando’s red-hot shooting on Tuesday night. After hitting on only 29% and 42% of their shots in Game 1 and 2, the Magic set the NBA Finals record by connecting on an amazing 63% of their field goal attempts in Game 3. Even more incredible was Orlando’s 75% shooting through the first half, after which it led by only five points (59-54).

That’s where the optimistic Lakers bettor steps in. Normally when a team shoots 55%, let alone 75% by halftime, they’ve built themselves at least a double-digit lead. The Magic didn’t do it. Up by only five through two quarters, Orlando should have been in serious, serious trouble in the second half. The Magic should have regressed to the mean, which would have seen them hit on about 50% of their attempts by the end of the game. If that had happened, players who took out their flyer on the Lakers to win the NBA championship would be gearing up for a nice payday from books.

Orlando’s historic shooting performance in Game 3 was as much of an outlier as their awful showing in Game 1, when it was nowhere close to covering as 6-point underdogs in an eventual 100-75 loss. The difference is the Magic lost by 25 in the opener, but they only won by four on Tuesday night. Orlando needed to shoot 63% to edge Los Angeles by four points on its home floor.

How does this affect Game 4 betting odds? It should attract a bunch of money on the Lakers as 3-point pups, to the extent that the spread is going to be on the move before Thursday night’s tipoff. It could also mean sharp action on the under after the opposite happened coming into Game 3. Tuesday night’s contest played over the 198-point total settled on by most books, but the smart money is eyeing the under on the 202-point total posted for Game 4. The only way the teams manage the over is if the Magic can somehow hit close to 60% of their shots. It’s highly unlikely.

It’s not as if Los Angeles played poor defense on Tuesday night. Orlando’s exceptional play was just that – exceptional. Dwight Howard had 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Magic, but he wasn’t the only player going off. Along with Superman, five Orlando players scored 18 or more points, including Rafer Alston with 20 points.

I thought the Lakers played almost as well on Tuesday night as in Game 1, with Kobe Bryant being the exception. Bryant started strong by scoring 17 points in the first quarter, and he finished with a solid line of 31 points (11-of-25 FGs) and eight assists. But he ended the game horribly by hitting only five of his last 14 shots, and had only 10 points in the entire second half. Was Kobe tired? His 5-of-10 performance at the line might give us the answer, not to mention a pivotal turnover in the final minute when he lost control of the ball twice.

That’s the pessimists’ view of Bryant’s Game 3 letdown. Thing is, if Kobe improves to the mean on Thursday night, the Lakers should cruise to the payday, and that’s with Orlando still firing field goals at a NBA Finals-record clip. Combine a better (but not great) game from Bryant and a worse (but not below average) shooting game from the Magic, and L.A. cashes.

The quantitative trends are also in favor of the Lakers heading into Game 4. The underdog is 8-1 ATS in the last nine meetings, while the road team is 7-2 ATS in the last nine matchups between the teams.

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